Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Samuel Viner (1881–1933)

by John Van Manen

This article was published:

William Samuel Viner (1881-1933), chess-master, was born on 5 December 1881 at East Maitland, New South Wales, only son of William Samuel Viner, an English tinsmith, and his native-born wife Elizabeth, née Blackwell (d.1884). After schooling, at the age of 14 he learned chess from his father and by 1897 had joined the Sydney School of Arts Chess Club. Having visited Broken Hill, in 1898 father and son went to Boulder City on the Western Australian goldfields. They helped to form a chess club and young William succeeded in local matches. Back east two years later, he played brilliantly in Sydney Suburban Chess Association matches and was runner-up in the School of Arts club championship.

Returning to Boulder City in January 1900, Viner worked as a plumber; he won the local chess handicap tournament and the West Australian championship. Early next year he became a clerk with the Perth Gas Co. Ltd. He was again State champion in 1901, 1903 and 1905, and won the Perth Chess Club's handicap tournament three times. In response to a challenge issued by the club to re-establish the dormant Australian championship, in 1906 he beat the Victorian champion C. G. M. Watson. Submitting that the title should be based on an official tournament, the New South Wales Chess Association alone refused to recognize Viner's claim to the title. Next year he won the New Zealand championship.

Shifting to Bellingen, New South Wales, in 1911 to help on his father's dairy farm, Viner successfully defended his Australian title against Dr L. B. Lancaster in 1912 and against the New South Wales champion Spencer Crakanthorp in 1913. Next year Viner competed in the British championship tournament at Chester and came seventh. Back home, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 12 January 1915 and embarked with the 11th Battalion on 19 April for Egypt. Evacuated sick, he spent two terms in hospital and served in A.I.F. depots in England from August 1916 before being demobilized in Perth in June 1918. On 10 July at the Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin, West Perth, he married Alice Lily May Hutt. He later took over the Bellingen farm, but sold out in December 1923; he worked as an attendant at the Goulburn Mechanics' Institute until 1927, then as a clerk in Sydney.

Viner lost the Australian title to Watson at the new Australian Chess Federation's 1922 championship congress. Next year Viner challenged the new champion; unable to play, Watson resigned the title to him. Viner retained it at the second official tournament in 1924, but lost in 1926. He was inactive until 1931 when he played in interclub matches; in 1932 he became an adjudicator for the State chess association. At the 1932-33 congress, despite failing health, he shared second place. Survived by his wife, a two-month-old daughter and four young sons, he died of cancer in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, on 27 March 1933 and was buried in Botany cemetery.

Quiet and modest, Viner was remembered for his cheerfulness and convictions. A strong positional player, a 'fighter' rather than a 'stylist', he had an indomitable will to win.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Chess Review, 20 Dec 1930, 20 Apr 1933
  • Australian Chess Lore, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Apr 1899, 2 May 1900
  • Maitland Mercury, 15 July 1899
  • Australasian, 15 Apr 1933.

Citation details

John Van Manen, 'Viner, William Samuel (1881–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 December, 1881
Maitland, New South Wales, Australia


27 March, 1933 (aged 51)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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